Monday, June 30, 2014

Garden Update June 30th, 2014

The garden is growing! What a wonderful time of year :).

A friend gave me a new houseplant. In a jelly mold pan! I believe it is a non-edible type of purslane. 

My herbs are overrunning the beds and I have been harvesting lots of dill, basil, parsley and oregano for sauces and zucchini cakes. Next on my list is to make a few big batches of pesto to freeze. 

The bees are buzzing around my anise hyssop plant. Yay for friendly pollinators!

The cucumbers vines got attacked by a hungry deer. But it looks like they are trying to recover. Hopefully I will still get cucumbers. The deer also got my okra, peppers, and one of my sweet potato plants. Any suggestions for keeping the deer away? 

Despite the deer, my zucchini and tomato plants are doing great!

Everything is a jumble of green.


The sweet potato plant that has survived so far. Hopefully the deer will stay away from this one. 

A friend of mine gave me a stinging nettle cutting. It sat in my window for 2 weeks in a cup of water and finally sprouted roots. Then the roots went crazy and I planted it a week later. Now it is a month later and the nettle is booming!

It is flowering like crazy, but I want it to get bushier so I will try to cut back the flowers and then let it go to seed later in the year. I want as much as I can to grow in my yard! Stinging nettle is a perennial that is high in iron and many other minerals, it is great in infusions or to eat as a nutritious green. I am so excited to finally have some in my yard and I hope to cultivate it into a huge patch that I can harvest and eat from for many years to come.

Today I harvested 5 zucchinis, basil and some bee balm to make tea. 

The big zucchinis weighed over 4 lbs! I made zucchini bread today with one of them. It made 9 cups of shredded zucchini which translated to 2 loaf pans and 18 muffins. Crazy. Now I have to figure out what I am going to do with the other one. ha!

What do you guys do with your large zucchinis? 

Friday, June 27, 2014

DIY Airlock for Lacto-fermentation

Today I want to talk about lacto-fermentation. You may or may not know what it is, so let's start there. 

The gist is that you take any kind of vegetable and chop it up, add salt and sometimes a little bit of water and let it ferment for anywhere between 3 days-4 weeks. The salt in the recipe kills off the bad bacteria, but there are good gut-friendly lactic acid bacteria that can survive the salt solution. The lactic acid bacteria (LAB's) feed off the sugars in the veggies and produce lactic acid and a whole bunch of probiotics that help to repopulate our gut with beneficial bacteria and sway our gut culture in the right direction :). Also, the process of lacto-fermentation preserves the veggies without having to use any heat (I've had batches of kimchi and sauerkraut last for months in the fridge and it just gets better with age). Also, fermentation makes the nutrients already present in the vegetables more bioavailable. Meaning when we eat fermented veggies our bodies absorb more nutrition from that food versus eating the same food unfermented. 

Another important thing to know is that lacto-fermentation should happen in an anaerobic environment (=without oxygen). When oxygen is introduced into the ferment it encourages the growth of mold and oxygen loving bacteria and we don't want that. 

One way we can fix this is by installing airlocks that allow the release of carbon dioxide from fermentation, while preventing oxygen from coming in. There are places to buy pre made airlock lids but they are generally $20 a piece. I didn't want to spend that much money so I went by the instructions on THIS blog for making my own DIY airlocks at home for a fraction of the price. 

I wanted to mention something really quick. It may seem like I have lots of motivation to get stuff done right away. But I actually found out the information about making my own airlocks and the benefits of fermentation for several years and it has taken me this long to get it to the top of the priority list. So if you ever feel overwhelmed by all the things you want to do in life, then take comfort in knowing that you aren't the only one. I get overwhelmed too and just have to take things one project at a time. Thankfully I finally completed this project and will have many fermented things coming out of my kitchen in the near future!

With that said, I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought the supplies for my own DIY airlocks.

First I bought four 1/2inch grommets at a brew supply store. Then I had Chris try to drill a hole in the mason jar lid. As you can see, that didn't work very well. So I got on Amazon and purchased a 1/2inch arch punch.  

After this came in the mail things got a lot easier!

I punched holes in four lids and inserted the rubber grommets. Then I cut a piece of tubing with a 1/2inch outer diameter, inserted it into the grommet and secured it into a loop with zip ties (then I ran out of zip ties and used masking tape for the next two). There is also the option of purchasing a regular airlock, but at the brew supply store they were $4 a piece and I could buy tubing to make 6-8 airlock systems for the same price. So I went with the tubing and it has worked great so far. 

Once my jars were set up I prepped my veggies for making sauerkraut and beet kvass (a fermented drink made from beets). I am sure you know what sauerkraut is, but here is an explanation of the beet kvass. 

Beet kvass is a traditional fermented beverage of Ukrainian origin.  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, beet kvass is:
“valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are loaded with nutrients. One glass morning and night is an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments."
With all those benefits, it has definitely been on my list of things to try for awhile. I mean, I am game to try anything this is purported to 'promote regularity' :).

To make the sauerkraut I chopped up some red and green cabbage, carrots, onions, and threw in an extra beet. I added salt and let it sit for 30 minutes to let the salt draw water from the veggies. Then I pounded it down with a potato masher for a few minutes and packed it tightly into a 1/2 gallon mason jar. 

The ratio I used was  2 tsp of salt for every 1 pound of vegetable. 

For the kvass I followed THIS recipe. 

I waited 2 1/2 weeks and took my first test. OH MY GOODNESS! They turned out so much better using the airlock. The cabbage is crunchy and tangy turned out a beautiful pink. I have eaten it raw on sandwiches, with scrambled eggs, on pizza, on grilled cheese, and lots more. It is a great condiment to go on anything. The kvass is delicious as well (at least as good as a salty drink made from beets, cabbage and onions would taste, ha!) and is a gorgeous deep purple that is impossible to catch on camera. 

I took so many pictures to try and portray the intensity of the color. It is really quite beautiful and amazing to drink something so full of flavor and nutrition. 

Since my first two ferments turned out well, I decided to branch out and try making pickles!

I grabbed some grape leaves and cucumbers from a friend, and some dill from my garden and stuffed them into mason jars. 

Because I was leaving the cucumber in large pieces I had to make a brine which consisted of 4 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of salt. I just added the salt so it is cloudy but it dissolved a minute or two later. 

I made 2 quarts of pickles. One with dill and garlic and the other with just dill. I also added 2 grape leaves to each jar because I read that the tannins in grape leaves keep the pickles crunchy. I will let you know if it works.

Here is a close-up of the airlock. I got a little creative with this one and used a rubber band and twist tie. But it still does the job. Then I put water in the tube and covered it with a torn off piece of coffee filter to keep dust and bugs out. It is so cool to see the bubbles come up through the tube and move through while the water keeps the oxygen from getting in. 

I also strained out the beet kvass and added in more salt water to make a second batch with the same beets. Then I started a second jar of sauerkraut with just red cabbage, salt and red pepper flakes. I wanted something a little spicier for my next batch. Also in the picture is 4 jars of medicinal tinctures  and a mason jar of fresh herbal tea that I wrote about yesterday. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about fermentation! Have you ever tried to ferment anything? What was your experience like?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Summer Days

Yesterday was a great day. I spent the morning volunteering at an Organic Medicinal Herb Garden that is run through my university and harvested some herbs for making tinctures. Then I came home and harvested some garden vegetables and herbs and spent the rest of the day experimenting in the kitchen. Those are my favorite kind of days :).  

This is somewhat of a tangent but something I have been thinking about lately. I have realized that I struggle with living in the present because all I can think about is the future. I think about what I want to accomplish and learn and can easily get overwhelmed by all the things I wish I was/could be doing RIGHT NOW. Since there is never going to be an infinite amount of time or an infinite amount of energy I realize I must work more at being present. 

Something that I know helps to ground me is by working out in the garden. It has a way of bringing the here and now into focus. I can only think about what can be harvested and used right now instead of next week or a month from now. For that I am thankful that I have so many opportunities to work in the garden at my university as well as my garden here at the house. I am curious, what do you guys do to remind you to be present instead of thinking about the past or the future? 

With that, I will show you what I did yesterday with all my harvested veggies and herbs!

I was out of town last week so we had a couple of GIANT zucchinis that I have been using to make zucchini cakes. 

First I shredded the zucchini in the food processor, salted it and let it sit for 45 minutes. The salt drew water from the zucchini and then I put it in a flower sack towel and squeezed out all the juice. 

Then I took the squeezed zucchini and added 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sourdough starter, salt, pepper and lots of fresh herbs like parsley, basil,  and oregano. 

Then I fried them up in a skillet and served it for lunch with tomatillo salsa. 

At the medicinal herb garden I harvested feverfew (back), echinacea (middle, left) and lavender (middle, right) and yarrow (front). 

I used these fresh herbs to make tinctures. Tinctures are shelf-stable medicinal extracts. You take the herb and figure out what the medicinal properties are and then pick a solvent that will best extract those properties. I used sugarcane alcohol for these tinctures, but other solvents include glycerin, apple cider vinegar and other types of alcohol. 

To make my tinctures, I filled out my medicine making worksheets and created labels for each jar, I weighed out the herb, calculated the required amount of liquid, chopped my herb and put it into the jars with the alcohol solution. I will need to shake the jars a couple of times a day for the next two weeks and then I will strain out the herb and I will have my finished tincture ready to be used. 

Or course I made a big mess. But it was a lot of fun!

Tinctures! I can't wait to experiment with them when they are ready. Yarrow is styptic and astringent, which means it stops the flow of bleeding and binds tissues together. I plan to use my yarrow tincture for cuts and scrapes. My lavender tincture I plan to dilute and put in a spray bottle and use it as a linen spray, or add it to vinegar for household cleaning projects. The feverfew is reportedly good for migraines so I am going to try it out the next time I get a headache. The echinacea is good to stimulate the immune system during an attack so I definitely plan on using my echinacea tincture next time I feel like I am about to get sick. 

The wild bergamot (bee balm) is finally blooming so I harvested two blooms along with some dill for the table.

I love how using herbs and having them in our houses and diets can bring beauty and grace into our lives. 

I also harvested some lemon balm, basil, mint and anise hyssop from the garden to make an infused fresh herbal tea. 

Finally I harvested dill and cucumbers and grape leaves (from a friend's garden) and made pickles!! They are fermenting right now and they should be ready in two weeks. I have already written a post about how I made my airlocks for my fermenting jars so I will post it tomorrow.

Here is the final lineup of all the things I made yesterday. 4 tinctures, 4 lacto-ferments: 1/2 gallon of beet kvass, 1/2 gallon of red cabbage sauerkraut, 2 quarts of pickles, and 1 quart of fresh herbal tea. It was a really good day.  Now I smile every time I walk past my jars, and I am thankful for the beautiful colors, textures and flavors of God's creation!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Garden Update June 7th, 2014

Happy Summer everyone! We have had some crazy weather here in Georgia, but things are heating up and the garden is doing great! Lots of exciting things have happened since we talked last. My husband got accepted into a masters program at UGA and started classes a couple of days ago. He will be taking 2 classes a semester (summer, fall, spring) for the next 2 years. I am very proud of him.

Also, we left for a week to go on a vacation! The vacation was absolutely wonderful. We got to hang out with family and went on a cruise. We spent lots of time at the beach, soaking up the sun, swimming in the ocean, and of course eating lots of delicious food. I couldn't have asked for a better time!

I was nervous that my newly planted garden would suffer in my absence, but my fears were unfounded. We got back on Monday and I was surprised and delighted to see that everything was thriving and growing.

There are lots of updates in this post, so first I will show you pictures of the garden before we left, as well as my first harvest, pictures from garden today, a fallen limb that almost took out the garden, and building a gate.

Like I said, I was nervous about the garden shriveling up while were gone, so I put a thick layer of leaves so the soil would retain more water.

Now that you have seen the before pictures, here is what things look like now. 

I have peppers and okra here, they are doing okay. Not great, but hopefully they will hit their stride soon and really take off. If not I can always plant more beans. 

My 3 zucchini plants have taken off! They are getting so big and I can already see 2 or 3 little zucchinis starting to grow. 

They are so cute. This is my first time growing zucchini and I am enchanted. 

My cucumbers are also growing really well, especially once they started growing up the fence. 

My first one should be ready to pick in 2 or 3 more days. 

The rest of this garden bed has tomatoes and tomatillos and basil which are also coming along nicely.  A big difference from just 2 weeks ago. I plan to tie them to the fence with twine to keep them supported. 

Here is a picture of both beds. Again, I am pleasantly surprised at the growth I am seeing and will be thrilled to be eating cucumbers and zucchini in just a couple of days!

My anise hyssop plant next to the garden is growing beautifully and has started to bloom.

 The bees love it!

My herbs are also doing very well. 

I am most excited about the dill. This is my first year growing dill and I have determined I am going to make pickles with my dill and cucumbers. 

I had my first harvest of parsley a couple of days ago. 

I made a cole slaw with cabbage, carrots, parsley, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Truthfully, I didn't like it that much. I make another coleslaw with lime juice and cilantro that I liked much better. I wasn't going to throw it away, so for dinner I took the leftover coleslaw and cooked it in a little bit of leftover beef broth and tomatoes. Then I really liked it and want to make more as soon as I get more parsley. 

In other news, apparently there was a big storm while we were gone and lots of limbs fell in our yard. Thankfully none of the limbs fell on our house or vehicles. One of the limbs fell on our fence that I built to trellis the tomatoes. Thankfully, our neighbor saw it and pulled it off while we were gone, and since it fell on the fence, none of the plants were harmed. 

It even punctured a hole in the board when it fell. It was definitely a close call and I am so thankful the fence was there. 

On Thursday, we finally cut our grass and collected all the limbs and branches that fell in the storm. I look at the pile and give thanks that nothing was damaged!

As far as our summer, Chris and I are both enjoying some down-time and have had the opportunity to work on some projects around the house. Since we got back on Monday we have cleaned out the garage and hung cabinets, cleaned up our yard and Chris built a gate so we can get from our back deck to the yard. I told Chris that I finally feel like a responsible homeowner :).

I think it turned out great. 

So, what about you guys? Are you growing anything? Do you feel like an irresponsible homeowner when the grass isn't cut?